49ers defense thrashed again in loss to Saints

Bye weeks are supposed to make teams refreshed and in sync, but the 49ers looked the exact opposite Sunday afternoon in a 41-23 drubbing by the New Orleans Saints.

The 49ers (1-7) managed 486 yards of offense, but miscues on their second and third drives of the game proved costly, and ultimately fatal.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the 49ers locker room at Levi’s Stadium.

On their second drive of the afternoon, quarterback Colin Kaepernick (24-for-39, 398 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT) threw an interception right into the hands of Saints’ linebacker Craig Robertson.

Instead of sweeping his eyes across the field to soften the coverage, Kaepernick stared down wide receiver Quinton Patton from the time the ball was snapped. Robertson read the slant route and slipped underneath to pick off the ball with ease.

Kaepernick said:

“The interception in particular, I thought I could beat the guy with the throw and I saw him the whole way. Those are things that I look at ‘what can I correct, what can I do better at’ to help this team win football games.”

Robertson rumbled for a 29-yard return way down to San Francisco’s 25 yard-line.

To add insult to injury, Patton hauled Robertson down with a horse-collar tackle, which put the Saints (4-4) inside the red zone at the 12-yard line after the penalty was accepted.

Quarterback Drew Brees (28-for-39, 323 yards, 3 TD) sliced apart the 49ers defense and capped off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Michael Thomas. Cornerback Jimmie Ward was in coverage, but somehow inexplicably gave Thomas a five-yard cushion when the ball was practically on the goal line.

The score put the Saints up 14-3, and desperation set in quickly for the 49ers.

On their ensuing drive, instead of kicking a field goal, San Francisco attempted to go for it on fourth down from the Saints 24 yard-line.

The 49ers were stuck with fourth down in the first place after veteran wide receiver Torrey Smith tried to dance his way to a first down instead of turning upfield.

Saints’ safety Jairus Byrd wasn’t fooled by Smith’s attempted dekes, and tackled him short of the first down marker on third down for a 5-yard gain.

On fourth and short, the 49ers called a vanilla running play up the middle for running back DuJuan Harris, who started the game in place of the injured Carlos Hyde.

No gain. Turnover on downs.

Head coach Chip Kelly said:

“We felt we needed a touchdown there, and I didn’t think a field goal against Drew (Brees) and what they were doing to us defensively was enough. …  I thought we had to go for it at that point then.”

The Saints orchestrated four touchdowns drives in the first half and tacked on a field goal, and entered halftime with a 31-20 lead.

On their first drive of the second half, the 49ers drove down to the Saints one-yard line and running back Mike Davis fumbled the ball, and from there they couldn’t keep pace with the Saints.

The Saints entered the game with the 25th-ranked rushing attack in the league, but their backs looked elite against San Francisco’s league-worst run defense.

Running backs Tim Hightower and Mark Ingram galloped for a combined 245 yards and two touchdowns. The Saints offense totaled 571 yards in the game.

Kelly said the defensive struggles are everybody’s fault, starting with the head coach:

“We got to do a better job putting our players in position to make plays. That’s everybody. That’s me, that starts with the head coach so I don’t blame one specific person.”

With 5:56 left in the second quarter, Ingram gashed the 49ers for a 75-yard touchdown run. The Saints offensive line opened up a hole the size of the Grand Canyon on the right side, and Ingram exploded through it to score and put the Saints up 28-10.

Safety Antoine Bethea had a chance to make a tackle downfield, but the 32-year-old’s age showed on the play as Ingram blew right past him.

Bethea said about the run:

“Me being a pro safety, I tried my best to get (Ingram) down as well. Mishap in the defense, but at the end of the day we have to get him down.”

The 49ers offense managed to muster some big plays of their own, but it wasn’t enough to keep up with the Saints high-powered attack.

Tight end Vance McDonald caught a 65-yard touchdown with 1:05 left in the first half, and Harris also had a 47-yard touchdown reception earlier in the quarter.

Despite the 49ers defensive lapses, their offense was productive against a lackluster Saints defense.

Kaepernick had his seventh career 300-yard passing game, and while he made some nice throws, his accuracy was erratic.

Kaepernick said his start was a step in the right direction:

“We had a lot of opportunities out there, where a few different plays here or there, it’s a different ball game. Those are things moving forward we have to correct and those are the corrections we have to make that make a difference whether you win or lose football games.”

Harris played in his first game of the season two weeks ago against the Buccaneers, and was a nice surprise for San Francisco’s offense. He ran for 59 yards on 10 carries and hauled in 5 passes for 83 yards and a touchdown.

He said about the game:

“Feels great to play again. … I’ve been blessed to be able to come back and play. I’m trying to play my heart out for these guys.”

The 49ers will try and shore up their defensive issues next Sunday on the road against division rival Arizona Cardinals (3-4).